Everybody loves the odd cover during a concert, but listeners commonly berate cover albums as examples of laziness. Nothing could be further from the truth on the delightfully energetic new record by Shovels and Rope. Busted Jukebox, Vol. 1 features more imagination than most albums of original material. The band makes the music their own through their vigorous playing and singing, eccentric song choices, and unconventional arrangements.
Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have a ragged but right ethos that turn several of the 10 selections into proto-cowpunk classics. They are also helped by different guest musicians on every track, which makes each cut distinct from the one before it. The married couple take on Nine Inch Nails “Last”, as in “this wasn’t meant to last”, into a shouted proclamation of togetherness with the help of vocalist Caroline Rose. Other hard drivin’ songs include Butch Walker joining in on his bad boy ballad, “Bullet Belt” and J. Roddy Watson’s rowdy take on his parental tale, “Boys Can Never Tell”.
Not all the tunes rock. Lucius helps transform Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”, into a gospel hymn that suggests hope. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band dreamily backs the duo on Lou Reed’s tender “Perfect Day”. Shakey Graves turns Neil Young’s ballad “Unknown Legend” into a folk lament for the mythical West. These artists collaborate and freshen the material into something greater than a shared nostalgia for the originals.
The most sincere sounding cuts include JD McPherson and the duo offering the old R&B standard by Toussaint McCall, “Nothing Takes the Place of You”, as a soulful moan to better times past and enlisting the Milk Carton Kids help on Guns ‘n’ Roses on the lovelorn “Patience”. The irony is that both these tracks are artificial, artful creations. The larger truth is that they sing and play the songs like they really mean it.
Shovels and Rope perform one song by themselves without the assistance of others. The band does an a capella version of the Emmylou Harris / Rodney Crowell classic,”Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” to end the record. The duo employ a martial beat to keep time and shout the lyrics more than sing them. The result is the album ends at a beginning—they may have left the Pelican State, but the two also note “that the highway goes on forever”. The adventure has just started. After all, this disc is billed as volume one.
We live in a world of internet jukeboxes where one can walk into almost any urban or suburban and even many rural bars and play any song ever recorded through the magic of the world wide web. The allusion to a broken one as the album’s title evokes the past when patrons would search the listings on a coin-operated stereo for the one tune that would create the right mood. I distinctly remember one time in the past putting on five dollars’ worth of Martin Mull’s “Dueling Tubas” at a 10 for a dollar beer joint that upset the regulars enough that they almost broke the machine trying to get it to stop. That was then, this is now, but Shovels and Rope appreciate the expressive power of the idiosyncratic. They may be performing covers, but the band adds something extra that makes the songs strange and unique in the best possible manner.
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